Fracture-Related Medical Terms

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  • 0:01 Introduction to Bone Fractures
  • 0:35 Types of Bone Fractures
  • 3:26 Closed and Compound Fractures
  • 4:26 Other Fracture Complications
  • 5:24 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Betsy Chesnutt

Betsy teaches college physics, biology, and engineering and has a Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering

Bone fractures are very common and painful medical conditions. In this lesson, we will study the different types of fractures, as well as complications that can be caused by bone fractures.

Introduction to Bone Fractures

Have you ever fallen down or been in an accident that resulted in a broken bone? Although bones are very strong, they can break when subjected to large forces, and many of us have had the unpleasant experience of suffering fractured, or broken, bones. Bone fractures are one of the most painful medical conditions that you can have, and they can also take a very long time to heal. Bones can fracture in many ways, and the treatment depends on the type and location of the fracture. Let's take a few minutes to look at the different types of bone fractures.

Types of Bone Fractures

A bone fracture is classified based on its cause and the pattern of the broken bone. There are six general types of fractures that can be identified.

A transverse fracture is a complete fracture that is at a right angle to the long axis of the bone. 'Transverse' means 'across,' so you can think of a transverse fracture as a break that goes straight across a bone.

A spiral fracture is a fracture caused by excessive twisting of a bone. It results in the fracture having a distinctive spiral pattern, which can be seen on x-rays.

An oblique fracture is a complete fracture that is diagonal to the long axis of the bone. The word 'oblique' means 'slanting' or 'angled,' and that is exactly what this type of fracture looks like. Oblique fractures can sometimes occur when the bone experiences a sudden impact. When this happens, it is called an impaction fracture. If you jumped off the roof of a house and landed on your feet, you would be likely to have an impaction fracture.

A fissured fracture is an incomplete fracture that is parallel to the long axis of the bone. Fissured fractures are called incomplete because the bone is not broken completely through; there is just a small crack in the surface. These fractures are often caused by repetitive loading that eventually causes the bone to crack, and for this reason, they are also called stress fractures.

Fissured fractures are common in athletes, like runners, and other people who exert large repetitive stresses on their bones for a long period of time. Fissured fractures are the least painful and easiest to treat because the bone is not completely broken, and there is no damage to surrounding tissues.

A comminuted fracture is a fracture in which the bone is broken into several pieces. Comminuted fractures are often the result of serious trauma and are more difficult to heal, often requiring surgery and plates or screws to hold the pieces of the bone in place until they can heal.

Finally, a greenstick fracture is an incomplete fracture where only one side of the bone breaks. Think about how a green stick of wood would break if you bent it. It usually only breaks on one side, which is why this type of fracture is called a greenstick fracture.

Greenstick fractures are very common in children because their bones are much more flexible than adult bones; injuries that would typically result in total breaks in adults may cause only greenstick fractures in children. Greenstick fractures usually heal well without surgery because the ends of the broken bone cannot move at all. After a few weeks in a cast, children are usually able to return to normal activities with no lasting effects of the fracture.

Closed and Compound Fractures

Another way to classify fractures is by looking at whether or not the broken bone breaks through the skin. A closed fracture occurs when the bone is broken, but it does not cause much damage to surrounding tissues or break through the skin. They are called 'closed' because there is no opening in the skin where germs could enter and cause infections. Greenstick fractures and fissured fractures are always closed fractures because in those cases, the fracture is incomplete and the bone is not displaced from its normal position at all.

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